Ingeborg, by Peter Nicolai Arbo

As with many ancient cultures, little remains to tell us about what it was really like to be a Viking girl. We do however know that they were married between the ages of 12 and 15. Once married, they were expected to run the household, so it’s likely that their childhood would have been spent helping their own mothers run the home, and learning how to do so themselves. Girls had little to say about their marriage, which was agreed between families as an alliance and not a love match.

Girls and women were vital to Viking life. They were responsible for looking after farm animals and cooking and preserving food for winter. They were expected to know about herbs for medicines and take care of the sick and wounded. When the men went trading, hunting or raiding, women ran the farms in their absence. If she was from a rich family, a woman would have servants or slaves to help her – she would also be responsible for these in her husband’s absence.

This might sound similar to a lot of other societies. Women have always been an integral part of cultures across the world throughout all of time, yet very often have had fewer freedoms than men. Although also true of Viking society, Viking women actually had more freedoms than many women from other contemporary European societies. Girls may not have had a choice about their marriage partner, but the dowry they brought with them (usually cloth, a spinning wheel and loom, and a bed; richer families would also give jewellery, farm animals – even farms!) remained the girl’s property. It did not become part of her husband’s estate and would be inherited by her children instead.

Once married, girls continued to be part of their own families, as well as becoming a member of their husband’s. If her husband mistreated her or their children, or insulted her family, or was not a good provider, she could divorce him. Divorce in Viking times was much simpler than it is today. All a woman had to do to divorce her husband was gather some witnesses and declare herself divorced at her front door and then at the marital bed. Much easier than getting a lawyer involved!

In the event of a divorce, babies and toddlers automatically stayed with their mothers; older children were divided between their parents according to the wealth and status of their two families. The children’s rights to inheritance were protected by law, even after divorce. Viking law seems to have been much more female-friendly than many other ancient cultures. There was even a law protecting women from unwanted sexual advances, from kissing to rape.

Despite their popular reputation as fearsome and savage warriors, it seems that being a Viking girl wasn’t all bad. Although life was undoubtedly difficult, girls and women do seem to have been conferred some rights and therefore respect. If you want to read more about Viking women, and how they were depicted in Viking sagas, this article from Hurstwic, a Viking combat training and research LLC, has some interesting facts.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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